1/08/2012 RUDAW – By HEVIDAR AHMED – Abdulhakim Bashar is the head of the Kurdish National Council (KNC). In this interview with Rudaw, he discusses a number of issues critical to Western Kurdistan at this important historical juncture, including the liberated cities in Kurdish areas of the country, how the Erbil Agreement and power-sharing with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are being implemented, and what he expects will be in store for the Kurds after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad falls.
Rudaw: How many cities in Western Kurdistan have been liberated from the regime?
Abdulhakim Bashar: No Kurdish cities have been liberated. Syrian security forces have a presence in every Kurdish city.
Rudaw: But the liberation of some cities like Kobane, Efrin, and Derik was announced by the media.
Abdulhakim Bashar: Liberation has its symbols. Liberation means clearing Kurdish cities of Syrian forces and never allowing them to come back. Currently, Syrian security forces have a presence everywhere in Western Kurdistan, including the so-called liberated cities.
It is true that a certain political party’s flag has been raised on top of government offices, but the regime can force them to leave if it wants. The Syrian government is still in control of its offices. They still move their equipment in and out without any problem. So I would say no Kurdish cities have been librated.
Rudaw: Are you saying that the party’s duty is to protect the government offices?
“So I would say no Kurdish cities have been librated,”Abdulhakim Bashar: The government offices have not been taken. The government can use them any time it wants. This party’s actions have harmed the reputation of Kurds in Western Kurdistan. They are viewed as the regime’s partner. Having the regime surrender its offices to the Kurds without confrontation has harmed Kurdish interests in Syria and led to hostility between the Kurds and the Syrian revolutionaries.
Rudaw: Are government offices still functioning in Kurdish areas?
Abdulhakim Bashar: The offices are functioning without any problems. They have not changed except that the PYD flag has been raised on their roofs.
Rudaw: Who pays the employees?
Abdulhakim Bashar: The Syrian government still pays them.
Rudaw: It is said that the Syrian regime informs the PYD in advance before retreating from Kurdish cities. Do you have any evidence that the government has surrendered these cities to the PYD?
Abdulhakim Bashar: We don’t have any evidence, but in reality it seems that way. The PYD has not controlled any city by force. The government lets PYD take over the areas it leaves behind.
Rudaw: Why wouldn’t the KNC take over the government offices?
Abdulhakim Bashar: We are not allowed to enter the government offices. If we do so, the government will take them back from us by force.
Rudaw: It is said that around 2,000 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas entered Western Kurdistan. Is this true?
Abdulhakim Bashar: I don’t know the exact number, but I know PKK fighters are in Western Kurdistan. Currently, the PKK has gathered its forces on the Syrian-Kurdistan Region border. But the PYD claims it will not allow one single PKK fighter to penetrate into Western Kurdistan from the Kurdistan Region.
Rudaw: Where does the PKK gather its forces?
“The PYD has not controlled any city by force.”
Abdulhakim Bashar: In former Syrian military bases that have been surrendered to the PYD. They are also patrolling the border villages near the Kurdistan Region.
Rudaw: Would the PYD stop any forces from entering Western Kurdistan from the Kurdistan Region?
Abdulhakim Bashar: They say they would.
Rudaw: Is there any other Kurdish political party in Syria that carries arms besides the PYD?
Abdulhakim Bashar: No.
Rudaw: The KNC includes 15 political parties, but the PYD is just one party. How did you reach the agreement with them to run the cities 50/50?
Abdulhakim Bashar: The PYD and KNC have many goals including avoiding civil war, distancing the PYD from the Syrian regime and encouraging the PYD to serve Kurdish interests. In order to reach our goals, we had to give in to their demands with the Erbil Agreement.
Rudaw: Has the PYD implemented these things?
Abdulhakim Bashar: So far, no. They have been implemented politically, but in reality the PYD is still behaving in the same way. They say they are an independent party and won’t accept instructions from anyone.
Rudaw: Has the PYD ignored the Erbil Agreement?
Abdulhakim Bashar: The PYD says they would respect any decision made by both the PYD and the KNC, but they act differently. The PYD didn’t support the fall of the regime before the Erbil Agreement. However, we decided to hold a joint demonstration against the regime, which was a good step. On the other hand, we are concerned that the PYD creates problems since they carry arms.
Rudaw: The PYD has set up many checkpoints to protect Kurdish areas. Do you think this is a good step?
Abdulhakim Bashar: It is true that the PYD is the only armed Kurdish political party and has patrols around the cities. Syrian security wouldn’t confront PYD patrols. But if we set up checkpoints, they will take us out.
“Most of the members of my party are inside Syria,”Rudaw: At this critical moment for Western Kurdistan you are staying in Iraqi Kurdistan. Why?
Abdulhakim Bashar: Most of the members of my party are inside Syria. PYD leaders can leave Syria for conferences and go back any time they want. But we cannot do that. I would like to go back to Syria and continue my struggle against the regime but, if I return now, the regime will kill me.
Syrian Kurds are very disappointed in the PYD right now. If the situation continues this way, it will endanger Kurdish unity. Kurds might join the Free
Syrian Army (FSA) to protect themselves. People cannot put up with the PYD any longer. There are families who have daughters who have been taken and raped. They try people for no reason. Kurdish youth in Syria contact us, saying if the situation continues this way they will have no choice but to join the FSA.
Rudaw: Have Kurdish soldiers who have been trained in the Kurdistan Region returned to Western Kurdistan yet?
Abdulhakim Bashar: We are against Kurds killing Kurds. Those soldiers, who have been trained in the Kurdistan Region, are defectors from the Syrian military. Their duty is not to kill their Kurdish brothers. When they return to Western Kurdistan, they will protect strategic places like power stations, government offices and oil fields.
Rudaw: When will these forces return to Western Kurdistan?
Abdulhakim Bashar: After the regime falls.
Rudaw: Will the PYD allow these forces to return to Syria?
Abdulhakim Bashar: We have an agreement with the PYD. According to the Erbil Agreement, our forces must also take part in security affairs including civil and armed affairs in Western Kurdistan.
Rudaw: According to the Erbil Agreement, both the PYD and KNC agreed to stop attacking each other in the media. However, you attacked the PYD in Turkish newspapers. Why?
Abdulhakim Bashar: I didn’t attack. I spoke the truth. I said that Kurdish cities had not been liberated. I also said that Arab tribal leaders in the area wouldn’t tolerate having the government surrender its offices to the PYD. The Syrian government has recently distributed 3,500 weapons to Arab tribes to fight the PYD in Kurdish areas. This will lead to conflict between Arabs and Kurds. I hope the PYD changes its actions. The PYD wouldn’t react if the Syrian government killed their members, but if a Kurd criticizes them they would beat him up.
“We decided to stay silent to avoid civil war among the Kurds,”Rudaw: It is said that a member of your party killed a PYD member in Efrin a few days ago. Why?
Abdulhakim Bashar: It is not true. They don’t have any evidence that suggests a member of our party was responsible for the death. We have plenty of evidence that the PYD killed a senior leader of our party, Nasiradeen Piro. We decided to stay silent to avoid civil war among the Kurds. When the PYD member was killed in Efrin, they accused a family close to us without any evidence and killed four of them.
Rudaw: Is PYD really the most popular Kurdish political party in Western Kurdistan or do they just appear that way because they carry arms?
Abdulhakim Bashar: If the PYD disarmed, they wouldn’t even be in fourth or fifth place.
Rudaw: How popular is your party in Western Kurdistan?
Abdulhakim Bashar: Elections will decide that.
Rudaw: What will the future of Western Kurdistan be?
Abdulhakim Bashar: The Syrian regime will fall. President Bashar al-Assad will fight to the end and fight as part of the Alawite ethnicity, which will lead to a sectarian war in Syria. The spark of this war might affect Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. That’s why the Kurds must be very careful and will not get involved in that war.
Rudaw: How do you plan to not get involved in that war?
Abdulhakim Bashar: If our brothers in the PYD abide by the Erbil Agreement and stop creating problems, then we can all protect the Kurds in Syria together.
Rudaw: How much longer until the Assad regime falls?
Abdulhakim Bashar: It is not clear.
Rudaw: The Turkish government says they support Kurdish rights in Syria but will not allow the PKK to control Western Kurdistan in the name of the PYD or establish a Kurdish region there. Will you interfere if that happens? Can Turkey enter Western Kurdistan?
Abdulhakim Bashar: I don’t think the Turkish army would be able to enter Western Kurdistan easily. We would stand against such an attempt by Turkey. At the same time, I hope the PYD acts responsibly because neither Turkey nor other regional countries would allow them to control Western Kurdistan. They must put Kurdish interests before their party’s interests.
“I don’t think the Turkish army would be able to enter Western Kurdistan easily,”
In the Erbil Agreement, there was a decision to not raise any political party flags, except the Kurdistan flag and the Syrian revolution flag. The PYD doesn’t accept the revolution flag and has their own style of Kurdish flag, and they always raise their party’s flag.
Rudaw: The Syrian newspaper Watania reported that Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani sent a letter to Bashar al-Assad. Are you aware of this?
Abdulhakim Bashar: I don’t believe President Barzani sent any letter to Assad. It is possible he answered a letter where the Syrian regime asked if the Kurdistan Region would interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs. I don’t think President Barzani sent any official letter to the Syrian government.
Rudaw: Abdulbasit Sieda, a Kurd, was elected as head of the Syrian National Council (SNC). What is the view of the council toward the Kurdish issue?
Abdulhakim Bashar: The view of the SNC will change for better toward the Kurdish issue for two reasons. First, they know we are strong as a nation and have influence. Second, unlike Burhan Ghalioun, the former leader of SNC, Sieda as a politician has a good understanding of the situation. We have a good relationship with the SNC. It is expected that the council will come to the Kurdistan Region soon to hold discussions with us.
Rudaw: What is your post-Assad plan? Are Syrian Kurds demanding federalism or autonomy?
Abdulhakim Bashar: First, we must think about other things such as how the regime will fall. Will there be a sectarian war in Syria? In the Erbil Agreement, we said federalism must be implemented in Syria. I believe Syria will become four federal regions.
Rudaw: Are there any political parties in the Kurdistan Region that support the KNC?
Abdulhakim Bashar: Only the Kurdistan Region president supports the KNC. He views all the Syrian Kurdish political parties equally. Barzani follows the developments in Western Kurdistan every hour. Barzani cannot sleep well as he is eager about where the situation in Syria is heading. He wants Western Kurdistan to achieve its rights.
“We consider Iran part of the Syrian regime and have no relationship with them,”
Rudaw: Does the KNC have relationships with the U.S., UK and the West?
Abdulhakim Bashar: Yes, we have a strong relationship with them. We have a good relationship with France as they stand behind Kurdish rights. The French say the Kurds have a right to demand federalism. The U.S. says to not mention federalism, because the Arabs don’t like it. At this stage, they say to make friends with the Arabs and demand federalism during discussions with them. The UK has no clear position, but say they support Kurdish rights.
Rudaw: Do you have relationships with Turkey?
Abdulhakim Bashar: Yes, we have met the Turkish foreign minister twice, however we have different views. Turkey says the Kurdish issue in Syria must be resolved as in Turkish Kurdistan. Turkey says the Kurds should only participate in the government as heads of municipalities, MPs and ministers. But we told them that is not enough and that we want Kurdish rights to be enshrined in the new constitution. We told them we want to follow the pattern of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and it would be in their interests to have a good relationship with the Syrian Kurds.
Rudaw: Do you have relationships with Iran as well?
Abdulhakim Bashar: We consider Iran part of the Syrian regime and have no relationship with them.